HVAC technicians face a host of safety hazards on a regular basis, from falls to lifting risks, to respiratory hazards. In this article, we remind HVAC technicians what to watch out for on the job, so you can stay safe.
From trucks to technicians, asset protection is part of the HVAC business world.
“It is important to recognize that your highly trained, skilled technicians are your most important asset,” said Kathy Townsend, director of government contracts for Trademasters®, Lorton, Virginia. “Our ability to grow and generate revenue is restricted because it is so difficult to find skilled technicians. That being said, we must do everything we can to protect their health and safety.”
With an understanding that technicians are assets to be protected, contractors have to figure out what to protect them from and how to do it.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for Fiscal Year 2018, fall protection was the No. 1 issue in construction last year. Respiratory protection in general industry was No. 4, and eye and face protection No. 10 (see sidebar for complete listing). In the release, OSHA explained that it publishes this list to “alert employers about these commonly cited standards, so they can take steps to find and fix recognized hazards addressed in these and other standards before OSHA shows up. Far too many preventable injuries and illnesses occur in the workplace.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Inclement weather, be it too hot or too cold, is a primary concern for the HVAC industry, as technicians often work in unconditioned spaces. Despite that, there are reasons that fall protection was the most cited issue in the construction trades last year. Falling off of a roof isn’t the only fall risk that HVAC technicians face. They climb ladders into attics and risk falling through the ceiling, not to mention they run up and down countless flights of stairs, carrying tools and equipment in and out of basements. Technicians also climb in and out of the back of their service vehicles as they endeavor to gather materials and put items away. All of these scenarios can cause a technician to fall. Along with facing fall hazards, HVAC technicians can be exposed to lifting hazards. Some equipment is heavy and awkward, especially depending on where the technician is trying to place it. Using proper lifting techniques and compensating for a lack of personnel on-site with lift-assist tools can make the difference between a successful service call and a trip to the hospital.
HVAC technicians aren’t immune to respiratory hazards, either, as they can come in contact with dirt, dust, mold, airborne allergens, and harmful chemicals — like asbestos — while maintaining filters, duct systems, air handlers, and unitary equipment in different environments.
Electrocution, exposure to chemicals, and confined space entry are all topics that contractors can add to their safety list, too.
“We have three guiding principles when it comes to safety with our employees,” said Steve Saunders, CEO at Tempo Partners Inc. “We care about safety and promote a safe working environment. We are believable about safety as a core value of our company. We have safe vehicles, tools, and policies that focus not on pushing people, like technicians and dispatchers, too far.”
Compliance with OSHA safety standards does not happen overnight, and although it can be difficult, there are different levels of resources available to contractors.
“There are consultants that can help you develop a program from scratch, and many business insurance companies help with the development, review, update, or implementation of safety programs,” said Townsend. “There are many services that provide OSHA-10 and OSHA-30 online or workshop safety certification as a basic requirement for new co-workers.”
According to her, many of the services already being employed by contractors can be integrated into support safety programs. For example: GPS reporting systems, drug-free workplace policies, and vehicle camera systems.
“The idea is to begin with a basic program and simple goals and grow from there,” as stated on the OSHA website. “If you focus on achieving goals, monitoring performance, and evaluating outcomes, your workplace can progress along the path to higher levels of safety and health achievement.”
Within these web pages, there are six principals to help contractors continue to work or get started on their own OSHA-compliant safety program (see the Six Steps below).
“This review has included looking at lines of authority, enforcement, responsibility, special requirements for young or non-trades workers, personal protection equipment (PPE), a drug-free workplace, and more,” said Townsend. “Our company policies and procedures relate to the various type of health and safety hazards. We take the time to describe our employees’ rights and responsibilities regarding safety as well.”
THE COST OF SAFETY
“Generally, safety is mostly free, and accidents are very expensive,” said Saunders. “Accident-free work allows us to compensate technicians with bonuses and pay. We award those contractors for no accidents or traffic tickets while operating the company vehicle.”
Tempo provides a regular focus on safety in company meetings, training sessions, emails, and texts. It also provides extensive reminders for extreme temperature exposure risks, especially in the summer.
“We provide free ice, a/c in the vehicle, and cold water,” said Saunders. “In fact, on incredibly hot days, we won’t make service calls except to the customers that are club/agreement clients. We have lost some business in that way, but we have kept our technicians over time.”
OSHA’S TOP 10 CITED STANDARDS
The following is a list of the top 10 most frequently cited standards following an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) worksite inspection.
- Fall Protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
- Hazard Communication Standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200)
- Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
- Respiratory Protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
- Control of Hazardous Energy (lockout/tag-out), general industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
- Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
- Powered Industrial Trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
- Fall Protection, training requirements (29 CFR 1926.503)
- Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.212)
- Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1926.102)
– Source: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration